Clemson mayor Abernathy dies

CLEMSON — Longtime Clemson mayor Larry Abernathy died Saturday at age 64.
Abernathy, mayor of Clemson since 1984, left indelible fingerprints on everything he touched. He will be missed by many.
Abernathy enrolled at Clemson University in 1965, where he earned a B.A. in English in 1969 and an M.A. in Liberal Arts in 1973.
His love and loyalty for Clemson and the community members it houses was evidenced by his commitment to public service for the city. After serving on Clemson city council, Abernathy was elected Mayor of Clemson in 1984 — a position he held until his death.
Clemson city administrator Rick Cotton said that what stands out most about Abernathy was his genuine caring and inclusiveness when it came to people and the city of Clemson.
“The reason for Larry’s success is because he was so passionate about people,” Cotton said. “It didn’t matter what the person’s position or status socially, he just cared about people.”
Abernathy dedicated 32 years of public service in government to the city of Clemson. During his tenure as mayor, both the city of Clemson and Clemson University have undergone significant growth and prosperity while at the same time preserving the quaint, family-oriented college-town atmosphere that endears Clemson to the hearts of students, residents and visitors alike.
Abernathy worked for the establishment of the Clemson Area Transit (CAT Bus) system while he was mayor of Clemson. What was at one point in time heralded as “Abernathy’s Folly,” the CAT Bus system has since evolved into the largest fare-free bus line in the United States in terms of ridership. It serves more than 1.6 million riders a year.
The opening of South Carolina’s first energy-efficient transit center happened in November 2011 in Clemson. The $3 million Clemson Area Transit building houses administrative offices for the bus system that links Pickens, Anderson and Oconee counties.
Establishing a partnership with Clemson University, Abernathy oversaw the beautification program in the city of Clemson, a program which is currently still under way.
Clemson University President James Barker, who was a classmate of Abernathy’s at Clemson, worked together with the Clemson mayor to make the city of Clemson and Clemson University a litter-free campus and community.
In an e-mail released campuswide, Barker wrote: “Larry Abernathy was my Clemson classmate, my partner in serving this community and my dear friend. Larry was the personification of the term public service. His untiring commitment to this city and university, his strong belief in collaboration, and his progressive leadership helped make Clemson one of the nation’s best college towns and a national model for positive town-gown relations. He will be sorely missed.”
According to Cotton, Clemson mayor pro tem Butch Trent will assume Abernathy’s duties until a special election is held later this spring.
Abernathy’s passion for people extended beyond his leadership role as mayor of Clemson into the world of addictions counseling.
In 1978, Abernathy held a position as executive director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission in Oconee County. From 1978 until 2001, he served as treatment director for the Anderson-Oconee Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission. When he retired as director, Abernathy accepted a full-time position teaching in the graduate counseling program through Clemson University’s Education Department.
Abernathy died Saturday at Greenville Memorial Hospital.
Born in Shelby, N.C., he was a son of the late Paul Hicks and Madge Aline Mitcham Abernathy. Surviving him are his wife, Jo Ann Davis Abernathy, daughter, Dana Simpson and her husband, Tim; son Ben Abernathy and wife, Nicky. Abernathy also had four grandchildren: Blake and Tyler Simpson and Chase and Cody Abernathy.
Memorial services for Larry Abernathy are scheduled for 2 p.m. on Thursday, February 16, at First Baptist Church in Clemson. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to University Lutheran Church, 111 Sloan Street, Clemson, SC 29631, Clemson Community Care, P.O. Box 271, Clemson, SC 29633 or Clemson Free Clinic, P.O. Box 491, Clemson, SC 29633.
Condolences may be expressed online at or at Duckett-Robinson Funeral Home.